Summer evenings mean cocktails; wonderful concoctions of alcohol shaken with or poured over ice, with added sugar and bitters, maybe some fizz; perhaps fruit; a dash of this, a dash of that. Well, it’s an area where you can let your imagination run wild but like all good things, knowing the basics, understanding what works, will always make the end result better. And last night at Hixter, we had the benefit of three of London’s best cocktail bartenders – expert Brand Ambassadors – to show us how to do it. I was invited to the evening by Chivas Brothers, via Richmond Towers Communications. They were highlighting three of their bestsellers: Chivas Regal, Beefeater Gin and Ballantine’s whisky. Chivas Brothers is the Scotch whisky and premium gin business of Pernod Ricard – the world’s co-leader in wine and spirits.
The setting at Hixter‘s terrace bar was perfect – outside, yet protected from the rain that came at one point and I only noticed evidence of when I left. Hixter is based in the City near Liverpool Street Station and is Mark Hix’s second London chicken and steak restaurant, but you can also indulge in some surf and turf which comes with a half or whole roasted lobster. For the cocktail event, Hixter’s resident chef Fabrizio Pusceddu matched some wonderful canapés with each cocktail.
We began with ‘Escocia’, presented and created by Chivas Regal. This light whisky and sherry cocktail provided a wonderful summery and sophisticated start to the evening. A mix of Chivas, Manzanilla sherry, fresh white grape juice, pear essence, apricot essence, lemon tincture, citric acid solution and the oils from the zests of lemons and oranges, it was then charged with CO2 and sealed in a champagne bottle (the sherry is added after opening) for a delightful fresh, fizzy and zingy drink. As the matching canapés were passed round, we were shown how to make the cocktail.
‘Escocia’ was paired with Potted Smoked Salmon with Creme Fraiche and Chives. This was Mark Hix’s own smoked salmon which is cured with sea salt and molasses; it sat on a slice of Richard Corrigan’s soda bread. It was, of course, divine. But what was interesting was the contrast of the sweetness and softness coming through the whisky cocktail pairing with the saltiness of the salmon. What a great start to the evening.
Next came ‘Apple of My Eye’ presented by Beefeater Gin. Beefeater is the world’s most awarded premium gin and the only historic dry gin still distilled in London. Our cocktail was a mix of Beefeater Dry, fresh lemon juice, lemon thyme syrup and 4 drops of saline solution. It was shaken and strained into a small coupettte glass.
Again, we were shown how to make the cocktail while tasting it with the canapés.
The canapé paired with this was Beetroot Galettes with Goats’ Curd and Hazlenuts. The apple-infused gin with its juniper and salty notes matched the earthy, sweet beetroot wonderfully. As trays of the little galettes kept coming round I couldn’t resist taking a few more!
Our third and final cocktail came from Ballantine’s and was created by bartender Fredrik Olsson: ‘Ballantine’s Cobbler’.
Ballantine’s is the No.1 whisky in Europe with a heritage dating back to 1827 and a range of award-winning whiskies. Fredrik described the ‘Cobbler’ as an old classic type of cocktail; a little like sangria; a Pimm’s influence. It contained Ballantine’s Finest, ruby tawny port, maraschino cherry syrup, dash of sugar syrup and raspberry puree.
It was lightly shaken and strained into a hurricane glass filled with minted crushed ice. With the gorgeous addition of fresh raspberry puree it was a perfect cocktail to finish with. It was paired with Sirloin Steak Slipper with Scrumpy Onions.
This was a more substantial canapé but could still be easily eaten while standing. A delicious sliver of rare sirloin steak, gherkin, lettuce and onions which perfectly balanced the crispness and acidity of the raspberries in the cocktail. Another canapé coming round was Scotch Burford Brown Egg with Caper Mayonnaise. Wow! These were good as well.
While we’d just been eating canapés there had been plenty of food, so in essence a meal, and thus a dessert to end the evening came round last. Gorgeous bite-sized Lemon Meringue Pies. I couldn’t resist some seconds of these too!
It had been a wonderful evening. I thought the cocktail and canapé pairing was a great idea. Cocktails are so popular at the moment but generally (unless you’re having a virgin version) they’re strong so a bit of food with them is a good idea. And sometimes serving cocktails before a meal is fun. I often like to serve canapés or little tapas-style snacks with drinks before a meal rather than make a starter and for a special occasion – or maybe just when you’re feeling indulgent – one of these fabulous cocktails and wonderful canapés would make any occasion or meal very special.
I’d love to go back and eat at Hixter sometime but meanwhile, you might like to see my review of his restaurant in Lyme Regis – Hix Oyster & Fish House – where I had a great meal last summer.
The individual photos of the three cocktails came from Chivas Regal; the rest are mine.